The 4 Sneaky Mistakes You Make on the Elliptical

Oops. Time to rethink some of these workout habits.

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You may choose the elliptical because it seems easier than the mindless running on the treadmill or taxing your whole body on the rower, but it’s actually a fantastic cardio option. It’s easier on the knees and ankles, and you can still get a great challenge by using the elliptical’s features, like turning up the resistance.

However, it’s all too easy to use the elliptical improperly (and derail your workout results). We asked certified trainer Robert Warren of Crunch Fitness in New York City about the most common elliptical mistakes he sees at the gym—and how you can avoid them.

  1. Elliptical mistake: You look down and don’t pay attention. First of all, if you’re able to text or dive into a new book, you’re probably not working out hard enough. Furthermore, it’s tough on your spine and neck to be looking down while running on the elliptical. (This is also true for the treadmill. Here are the most common mistakes people make on the treadmill.) Instead, listen to music or a podcast, watch TV on the wall, or just let your imagination keep you busy. The goal is to keep your chin up.

  2. Elliptical mistake: You slouch. In addition to keeping your chin up, you want to make sure your shoulders are back and your chest is lifted. It’s tempting to let your shoulders slope when you’re gripping the elliptical handles, but resist that and try and use the same posture you would if you were running on the treadmill.

  3. Elliptical mistake: You take it too easy. Just because the elliptical is easier on the joints doesn’t mean it should be a breezy workout. Challenge yourself by pushing up the resistance on the machine and going at a rigorous speed. That said, it’s more effective to work at a higher resistance and a medium speed than to be at a low resistance and a high speed, says Warren. Want more ways to make the elliptical more challenging? Try pedaling backward. You’ve probably seen people do this before, and yes, it’s legit. Pedaling forward works the quads, says Warren; going backward works the hamstrings and glutes. Another great trick is to sit back slightly (so your legs are at a 90-degree angle) while pedaling backward. You’ll definitely feel the burn (trust us).

  4. Elliptical mistake: You ignore the handles. The elliptical can also double as an arm workout if you use those moving handles.

Want more low-impact workouts? This full-body workout takes place entirely on the floor but will totally get you sweating. You may also want to try this 10-minute yoga routine for a strong body.